TYPES OF ARTICLES
From: How To Write Special Feature Articles
(Category: PART I
METHODS OF TREATMENT. After choosing a subject and formulating his
purpose, a writer is ready to consider methods of treatment. Again it is
desirable to survey all the possibilities in order to choose the one
method best adapted to his subject and his purpose. His chief
consideration should be the class of readers that he desires to reach.
Some topics, he will find, may be treated with about equal success in
any one of several ways, while others lend themselves to only one or two
forms of presentation. By thinking through the various possible ways of
working out his subject, he will be able to decide which meets his needs
EXPOSITION BY NARRATION AND DESCRIPTION. The commonest method of
developing a special feature article is that which combines narration
and description with exposition. The reason for this combination is not
far to seek. The average person is not attracted by pure exposition. He
is attracted by fiction. Hence the narrative and descriptive devices of
fiction are employed advantageously to supplement expository methods.
Narratives and descriptions also have the advantage of being concrete
and vivid. The rapid reader can grasp a concrete story or a word
picture. He cannot so readily comprehend a more general explanation
unaccompanied by specific examples and graphic pictures of persons,
places, and objects.
Narration and description are used effectively for the concrete examples
and the specific instances by which we illustrate general ideas. The
best way, for example, to make clear the operation of a state system of
health insurance is to relate how it has operated in the case of one or
more persons affected. In explaining a new piece of machinery the writer
may well describe it in operation, to enable readers to visualize it
and follow its motions. Since the reader's interest will be roused the
more quickly if he is given tangible, concrete details that he can
grasp, the examples are usually put first, to be followed by the more
general explanation. Sometimes several examples are given before the
explanatory matter is offered. Whole articles are often made up of
specific examples and generalizations presented alternately.
To explain the effects of a new anęsthetic, for example, Mr. Burton J.
Hendrick in an article in _McClure's Magazine_, pictured the scene in
the operating-room of a hospital where it was being given to a patient,
showed just how it was administered, and presented the results as a
spectator saw them. The beginning of the article on stovaine, the new
anęsthetic, illustrating this method of exposition, follows:
A few months ago, a small six-year-old boy was wheeled into the
operating theater at the Hospital for Ruptured and Crippled
Children, in New York City. He was one of the several thousand
children of the tenements who annually find their way into this
great philanthropic institution, suffering from what, to the lay
mind, seems a hopelessly incurable injury or malformation. This
particular patient had a crippled and paralyzed leg, and to restore
its usefulness, it was necessary to cut deeply into the heel,
stretch the "Achilles tendon," and make other changes which, without
the usual anesthetic, would involve excruciating suffering.
According to the attendant nurses, the child belonged to the "noisy"
class; that is, he was extremely sensitive to pain, screamed at the
approach of the surgeon, and could be examined only when forcibly
As the child came into the operating-room he presented an extremely
pathetic figure--small, naked, thin, with a closely cropped head of
black hair, and a face pinched and blanched with fear. Surrounded by
a fair-sized army of big, muscular surgeons and white-clothed
nurses, and a gallery filled with a hundred or more of the leading
medical men of the metropolis, he certainly seemed a helpless speck
of humanity with all the unknown forces of science and modern life
arrayed against him. Under ordinary conditions he would have been
etherized in an adjoining chamber and brought into the
operating-room entirely unconscious. This cripple, however, had
been selected as a favorable subject for an interesting experiment
in modern surgery, for he was to undergo an extremely torturous
operation in a state of full consciousness.
Among the assembled surgeons was a large-framed, black moustached
and black-haired, quick-moving, gypsy-like Rumanian--Professor
Thomas Jonnesco, dean of the Medical Department of the University of
Bucharest, and one of the leading men of his profession in Europe.
Dr. Jonnesco, who had landed in New York only two days before, had
come to the United States with a definite scientific purpose. This
was to show American surgeons that the most difficult operations
could be performed without pain, without loss of consciousness, and
without the use of the familiar anesthetics, ether or chloroform.
Dr. Jonnesco's reputation in itself assured him the fullest
opportunity of demonstrating his method in New York, and this
six-year-old boy had been selected as an excellent test subject.
Under the gentle assurances of the nurses that "no one was going to
hurt" him, the boy assumed a sitting posture on the operating-table,
with his feet dangling over the edge. Then, at the request of Dr.
Jonnesco, he bent his head forward until it almost touched his
breast. This threw the child's back into the desired position--that
of the typical bicycle "scorcher,"--making each particular vertebra
stand out sharply under the tight drawn skin. Dr. Jonnesco quickly
ran his finger along the protuberances, and finally selected the
space between the twelfth dorsal and the first lumbar vertebrę--in
other words, the space just above the small of the back. He then
took an ordinary hypodermic needle, and slowly pushed it through the
skin and tissues until it entered the small opening between the
lower and upper vertebrę, not stopping until it reached the open
space just this side of the spinal cord.
As the needle pierced the flesh, the little patient gave a sharp
cry--the only sign of discomfiture displayed during the entire
operation. When the hollow needle reached its destination, a few
drops of a colorless liquid spurted out--the famous cerebro-spinal
fluid, the substance which, like a water-jacket, envelops the brain
and the spinal cord. Into this same place Dr. Jonnesco now
introduced an ordinary surgical syringe, which he had previously
filled with a pale yellowish liquid--the much-famed stovaine,--and
slowly emptied its contents into the region that immediately
surrounds the spinal cord.
For a few minutes the child retained his sitting posture as if
nothing extraordinary had happened. Dr. Jonnesco patted him on the
back and said a few pleasant words in French, while the nurses and
assistants chatted amiably in English.
"How do you feel now?" the attending surgeon asked, after the lapse
of three or four minutes.
"All right," replied the boy animatedly, "'cept that my legs feel
like they was going to sleep."
The nurses now laid the patient down upon his back, throwing a
handkerchief over his eyes, so that he could not himself witness the
subsequent proceedings. There was, naturally, much holding of breath
as Dr. Virgil P. Gibney, the operating surgeon, raised his knife and
quickly made a deep incision in the heel of this perfectly conscious
patient. From the child, however, there was not the slightest
evidence of sensation.
"Didn't you feel anything, my boy?" asked Dr. Gibney, pausing.
"No, I don't feel nothin'," came the response from under the
An operation lasting nearly half an hour ensued. The deepest tissues
were cut, the tendons were stretched, the incision was sewed up, all
apparently without the patient's knowledge.
Some types of articles, although expository in purpose, are entirely
narrative and descriptive in form. By relating his own experiences in a
confession story, for example, a writer may be able to show very clearly
and interestingly the dangers of speculations in stocks with but small
capital. Personality sketches are almost always narrative and
Many of the devices of the short story will be found useful in articles.
Not only is truth stranger than fiction, but facts may be so presented
as to be even more interesting than fiction. Conversation,
character-drawing, suspense, and other methods familiar to the writer of
short stories may be used effectively in special articles. Their
application to particular types of articles is shown in the following
SPECIAL TYPES OF ARTICLES. Although there is no generally recognized
classification of special feature articles, several distinct types may
be noted, such as (1) the interview, (2) the personal experience story,
(3) the confession article, (4) the "how-to-do-something" article, (5)
the personality sketch, (6) the narrative in the third person. These
classes, it is evident, are not mutually exclusive, but may for
convenience be treated separately.
THE INTERVIEW. Since the material for many articles is obtained by means
of an interview, it is often convenient to put the major part, if not
the whole, of the story in interview form. Such an article may consist
entirely of direct quotation with a limited amount of explanatory
material concerning the person interviewed; or it may be made up partly
of direct quotation and partly of indirect quotation, combined with the
necessary explanation. For greater variety it is advisable to alternate
direct and indirect quotations. A description of the person interviewed
and of his surroundings, by way of introduction, gives the reader a
distinct impression of the individual under characteristic conditions.
Or some striking utterance of his may be "played up" at the beginning,
to be followed by a picture of him and his surroundings. Interviews on
the same topic with two or more persons may be combined in a single
The interview has several obvious advantages. First, the spoken word,
quoted _verbatim_, gives life to the story. The person interviewed seems
to be talking to each reader individually. The description of him in his
surroundings helps the reader to see him as he talks. Second, events,
explanations, and opinions given in the words of one who speaks with
authority, have greater weight than do the assertions of an unknown
writer. Third, the interview is equally effective whether the writer's
purpose is to inform, to entertain, or to furnish practical guidance.
Romance and adventure, humor and pathos, may well be handled in
interview form. Discoveries, inventions, new processes, unusual methods,
new projects, and marked success of any kind may be explained to
advantage in the words of those responsible for these undertakings.
In obtaining material for an interview story, a writer should bear in
mind a number of points regarding interviewing in general. First, in
advance of meeting the person to be interviewed, he should plan the
series of questions by which he hopes to elicit the desired information.
"What would my readers ask this person if they had a chance to talk to
him about this subject?" he must ask himself. That is, his questions
should be those that readers would like to have answered. Since it is
the answers, however, and not the questions, that will interest readers,
the questions in the completed article should be subordinated as much as
possible. Sometimes they may be skillfully embodied in the replies;
again they may be implied merely, or entirely omitted. In studying an
interview article, one can generally infer what questions the
interviewer used. Second, he must cultivate his memory so that he can
recall a person's exact words without taking notes. Most men talk more
freely and easily when they are not reminded of the fact that what they
are saying is to be printed. In interviewing, therefore, it is desirable
to keep pencil and paper out of sight. Third, immediately after leaving
the person whom he has interviewed, the writer should jot down facts,
figures, striking statements, and anything else that he might forget.
EXAMPLES OF THE INTERVIEW ARTICLE. As a timely special feature story for
Arbor Day, a Washington correspondent used the following interview with
an expert as a means of giving readers practical advice on
ARBOR DAY ADVICE
WASHINGTON, April 1.--Three spadefuls of rich, pulverized earth will
do more to make a young tree grow than a 30-minute Arbor day address
by the president of the school board and a patriotic anthem by the
senior class, according to Dr. Furman L. Mulford, tree expert for
the department of agriculture.
Not that Dr. Mulford would abbreviate the ceremonies attendant upon
Arbor day planting, but he thinks that they do not mean much unless
the roots planted receive proper and constant care. For what the
Fourth of July is to the war and navy departments, and what Labor
day is to the department of labor, Arbor day is to the department of
While the forestry bureau has concerned itself primarily with trees
from the standpoint of the timber supply, Dr. Mulford has been
making a study of trees best adapted for streets and cities
generally. And nobody is more interested than he in what Arbor day
signifies or how trees should be chosen and reared.
"We need trees most where our population is the thickest, and some
trees, like some people, are not adapted to such a life," said Dr.
Mulford. "For street or school yard planting one of the first
considerations is a hardy tree, that can find nourishment under
brick pavements or granite sidewalks. It must be one that branches
high from the ground and ought to be native to the country and
climate. America has the prettiest native trees and shrubs in the
world and it is true patriotism to recognize them.
"For Southern states one of the prettiest and best of shade trees is
the laurel oak, and there will be thousands of them planted this
spring. It is almost an evergreen and is a quick growing tree. The
willow oak is another.
"A little farther north the red oak is one of the most desirable,
and in many places the swamp maple grows well, though this latter
tree does not thrive well in crowded cities.
"Nothing, however, is prettier than the American elm when it reaches
the majesty of its maturity and I do not believe it will ever cease
to be a favorite. One thing against it, though, is the 'elm beetle,'
a pest which is spreading and which will kill some of our most
beautiful trees unless spraying is consistently practised. China
berry trees, abundant in the South, and box elders, native to a
score of states, are quick growing, but they reach maturity too soon
and begin to go to pieces."
"What is the reason that so many Arbor day trees die?" Dr. Mulford
"Usually lack of protection, and often lack of care in planting,"
was the answer. "When the new tree begins to put out tender rootlets
a child brushing against it or 'inspecting' it too closely will
break them off and it dies. Or stock will nip off the new leaves and
shoots and the result is the same. A frame around the tree would
"Then, often wild trees are too big when transplanted. Such trees
have usually only a few long roots and so much of these are lost in
transplanting that the large trunk cannot be nourished by the
remainder. With nursery trees the larger they are the better it is,
for they have a lot of small roots that do not have to be cut off.
"Fruit trees are seldom so successful as shade trees, either along
a street or road or in a yard. In the first place their branches are
too low and unless carefully pruned their shape is irregular. Then
they are subject to so many pests that unless constant care is given
them they will not bear a hatful of fruit a season.
"On the other hand, nut trees are usually hardy and add much to the
landscape. Pecan, chestnut, walnut and shaggy bark hickory are some
of the more popular varieties."
The first Arbor day was observed in Nebraska, which has fewer
natural trees than any other state. This was in 1872, and Kansas was
the second to observe the day, falling into line in 1875.
Incidentally Kansas ranks next to Nebraska in dearth of trees.
The Arbor day idea originated with J. Sterling Morton, a Nebraskan
who was appointed secretary of agriculture by Cleveland. Now every
state in the Union recognizes the day and New York, Pennsylvania,
New Jersey, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and others have
gotten out extensive Arbor day booklets giving information
concerning trees and birds; most of them even contain appropriate
songs and poems for Arbor day programs.
How an interview combined with a description of a person may serve to
create sympathy for her and for the cause that she represents is shown
in the following article, which was published anonymously in the Sunday
magazine section of the _Ohio State Journal_. It was illustrated with
two half-tone portraits, one of the young woman in Indian costume, the
other showing her in street dress.
JUST LIKE POCAHONTAS OF 300 YEARS AGO
"_Oh, East is East and West is West,
And never the two shall meet_."
BUT they may send messengers. Hark to the words of
"I carry a message from my people to the Government at Washington,"
says Princess Galilolie, youngest daughter of John Ross, hereditary
King of the "Forest Indians," the Cherokees of Oklahoma. "We have
been a nation without hope. The land that was promised us by solemn
treaty, 'so long as the grass should grow and the waters run,' has
been taken from us. It was barren and wild when we received it
seventy years ago. Now it is rich with oil and cultivation, and the
whites coveted our possessions. Since it was thrown open to settlers
no Cherokee holds sovereign rights as before, when it was his
nation. We are outnumbered. I have come as a voice from my people to
speak to the people of the Eastern States and to those at
Washington--most of all, if I am permitted to do so, to lay our
wrongs before the President's wife, in whose veins glows the blood
of the Indian."
Only nineteen is this Indian princess--this twentieth century
Pocahontas--who travels far to the seats of the mighty for her race.
She is a tall, slim, stately girl from the foothills of the Ozarks,
from Tahlequah, former capital of the Cherokee Nation. She says she
is proud of every drop of Indian blood that flows in her veins. But
her skin is fair as old ivory and she is a college girl--a girl of
the times to her finger-tips.
"When an Indian goes through college and returns to his or her
people," she says with a smile, "they say, 'Back to the blanket!' We
have few blankets among the Cherokees in Tahlequah. I am the
youngest of nine children, and we are all of us college graduates,
as my father was before us."
He is John Ross 3d, Chief of the Cherokee Nation, of mingled Scotch
and Indian blood, in descent from "Cooweeskowee," John Ross I., the
rugged old Indian King who held out against Andrew Jackson back in
1838 for the ancient rights of the Five Nations to their lands along
the Southern Atlantic States.
She sat back on the broad window seat in the sunlight. Beyond the
window lay a bird's-eye view of New York housetops, the white man's
permanent tepee. Some spring birds alighted on a nearby telephone
wire, sending out twittering mating cries to each other.
"They make me want to go home," she said with a swift, expressive
gesture. "But I will stay until the answer comes to us. Do you know
what they have called me, the old men and women who are wise--the
full-bloods? Galilolie--'One-who-does-things-well.' With us, when a
name is given it is one with a meaning, something the child must
grow to in fulfillment. So I feel I must not fail them now."
"You see," she went on, lifting her chin, "it is we young
half-bloods who must carry the strength and honor of our people to
the world so it may understand us. All our lives we have been told
tales by the old men--how our people were driven from their homes by
the Government, how Gen. Winfield Scott's soldiers came down into
our quiet villages and ordered the Indians to go forth leaving
everything behind them. My great-grandfather, the old King
Cooweeskowee, with his wife and children, paused at the first
hilltop to look back at his home, and already the whites were moving
into it. The house is still standing at Rossville, Ga. Do you know
what the old people tell us children when we wish we could go back
there?" Her eyes are half closed, her lips compressed as she says
slowly, thrillingly: "They tell us it is easy to find the way over
that 'Trail of Tears,' that through the wilderness it is blazed with
the gravestones of those who were too weak to march.
"That was seventy years ago, in 1838. The Government promised to pay
amply for all it took from us, our homes and lands, cattle--even
furniture. A treaty was made solemnly between the Indians and the
United States that Oklahoma should be theirs 'as long as the grass
should grow and the waters run.'
"That meant perpetuity to us, don't you see?" She makes her points
with a directness and simplicity that should disarm even the
diplomatic suavity of Uncle Sam when he meets her in Washington.
"Year after year the Cherokees waited for the Government to pay. And
at last, three years ago, it came to us--$133.19 to each Indian,
seventy-eight years after the removal from Georgia had taken place.
"Oil was discovered after the Indians had taken the wilderness lands
in Oklahoma and reclaimed them. It was as if God, in reparation for
the wrongs inflicted by whites, had given us the riches of the
earth. My people grew rich from their wells, but a way was found to
bind their wealth so they could not use it. It was said the Indians
were not fit to handle their own money."
She lifts eyebrows and shoulders, her hands clasped before her
tightly, as if in silent resentment of their impotence to help.
"These are the things I want to tell; first our wrongs and then our
colonization plan, for which we hope so much if the Government will
grant it. We are outnumbered since the land was opened up and a mass
of 'sooners,' as we call them--squatters, claimers,
settlers--swarmed in over our borders. The Government again offered
to pay us for the land they took back--the land that was to be ours
in perpetuity 'while the grass grew and the waters ran.' We were
told to file our claims with the whites. Some of us did, but eight
hundred of the full-bloods went back forty miles into the foothills
under the leadership of Red Bird Smith. They refuse to sell or to
accept the Government money for their valuable oil lands. To appease
justice, the Government allotted them lands anyway, in their
absence, and paid the money for their old property into the banks,
where it lies untouched. Red Bird and his 'Night Hawks' refuse to
barter over a broken treaty.
"Ah, but I have gone up alone to the old men there." Her voice
softens. "They will talk to me because I am my father's daughter. My
Indian name means 'One-who-does-things-well.' So if I go to them
they tell me their heart longings, what they ask for the Cherokee.
"And I shall put the message, if I can, before our President's wife.
Perhaps she will help."
THE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE ARTICLE. A writer's own experiences, given under
his name, under a pseudonym, or in anonymous form, can easily be made
interesting to others. Told in the first person, such stories are
realistic and convincing. The pronoun "I" liberally sprinkled through
the story, as it must be, gives to it a personal, intimate character
that most readers like. Conversation and description of persons, places,
and objects may be included to advantage in these personal narratives.
The possibilities of the personal experience story are as great as are
those of the interview. Besides serving as a vehicle for the writer's
own experiences, it may be employed to give experiences of others. If,
for example, a person interviewed objects to having his name used, it is
possible to present the material obtained by the interview in the form
of a personal experience story. In that case the article would have to
be published without the writer's name, since the personal experiences
that it records are not his own. Permission to present material in a
personal experience story should always be obtained from the individual
whose experiences the writer intends to use.
Articles designed to give practical guidance, to show readers how to do
something, are particularly effective when written in the first person.
If these "how-to-do-something" articles are to be most useful to
readers, the conditions under which the personal experience was
obtained must be fairly typical. Personal experience articles of this
type are very popular in women's magazines, agricultural journals, and
publications that appeal to business men.
EXAMPLES OF THE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE STORY. The opportunities for
service offered to women by small daily newspapers are set forth in the
story below, by means of the personal experiences of one woman. The
article was published in the _Woman's Home Companion_, and was
illustrated by a half-tone reproduction of a wash drawing of a young
woman seated at her desk in a newspaper office.
"THEY CALL ME THE 'HEN EDITOR'"
THE STORY OF A SMALL-TOWN NEWSPAPER WOMAN
By SADIE L. MOSSLER
"What do you stay buried in this burg for? Why, look how you drudge!
and what do you get out of it? New York or some other big city is
the place for you. There's where you can become famous instead of
being a newspaper woman in a one-horse town."
A big city newspaper man was talking. He was in our town on an
assignment, and he was idling away spare time in our office. Before
I could answer, the door opened and a small girl came to my desk.
"Say," she said, "Mama told me to come in here and thank you for
that piece you put in the paper about us. You ought to see the
eatin's folks has brought us! Heaps an' heaps! And Ma's got a job
scrubbin' three stores."
The story to which she referred was one that I had written about a
family left fatherless, a mother and three small children in real
poverty. I had written a plain appeal to the home people, with the
"That," I said, "is one reason that I am staying here. Maybe it
isn't fame in big letters signed to an article, but it's another
His face wore a queer expression; but before he could retort another
caller appeared, a well-dressed woman.
"What do you mean," she declared, "by putting it in the paper that I
served light refreshments at my party?"
"Wasn't it so?" I meekly inquired.
"No!" she thundered. "I served ice cream, cake and coffee, and that
makes two courses. See that it is right next time, or we'll stop the
Here my visitor laughed. "I suppose that's another reason for your
staying here. When we write anything about a person we don't have to
see them again and hear about it."
"But," I replied, "that's the very reason I cling to the small town.
I want to see the people about whom I am writing, and live with
them. That's what brings the rewards in our business. It's the
personal side that makes it worth while, the real living of a
newspaper instead of merely writing to fill its columns."
In many small towns women have not heretofore been overly welcome on
the staff of the local paper, for the small town is essentially
conservative and suspicious of change. This war, however, is
changing all that, and many a woman with newspaper ambitions will
now have her chance at home.
For ten years I have been what may be classified as a small town
newspaper woman, serving in every capacity from society reporter to
city and managing editor. During this time I have been tempted many
times to go to fields where national fame and a larger salary
awaited those who won. But it was that latter part that held me
back, that and one other factor: "Those who won," and "What do they
get out of it more than I?"
It is generally conceded that for one woman who succeeds in the
metropolitan newspaper field about ten fail before the vicissitudes
of city life, the orders of managing editors, and the merciless
grind of the big city's working world. And with those who succeed,
what have they more than I? They sign their names to articles; they
receive big salaries; they are famous--as such fame goes. Why is a
signed name to an article necessary, when everyone knows when the
paper comes out that I wrote the article? What does national fame
mean compared with the fact that the local laws of the "Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals" were not being enforced and
that I wrote stories that remedied this condition?
I began newspaper life as society reporter of a daily paper in a
Middle-Western town of ten thousand inhabitants. That is, I supposed
I was going to be society reporter, but before very long I found
myself doing police assignments, sport, editing telegraph, and
whatever the occasion demanded.
I suppose that the beginnings of everyone's business life always
remain vivid memories. The first morning I reported for work at
seven o'clock. Naturally, no one was in the front office, as the
news department of a small-town newspaper office is sometimes
called. I was embarrassed and nervous, and sat anxiously awaiting
the arrival of the city editor. In five minutes he gave me
sufficient instructions to last a year, but the only one I remember
was, "Ask all the questions you can think of, and don't let anyone
bluff you out of a story."
My first duty, and one that I performed every morning for several
years, was to "make" an early morning train connecting with a large
city, forty miles away. It was no easy task to approach strangers
and ask their names and destination; but it was all good experience,
and it taught me how to approach people and to ask personal
questions without being rude.
During my service as society reporter I learned much, so much that I
am convinced there is no work in the smaller towns better suited to
women. Any girl who is bright and quick, who knows the ethics of
being a lady, can hold this position and make better money at it
than by teaching or clerking.
Each trade, they say, has its tricks, and being a society reporter
is no exception. In towns of from one thousand to two thousand
inhabitants, the news that Mrs. X. is going to give a party spreads
rapidly by that system of wireless telegraphy that excels the
Marconi--neighborhood gossip. But in the larger towns it is not so
easy. In "our town," whenever there is a party the ice cream is
ordered from a certain confectioner. Daily he permitted us to see
his order book. If Mrs. Jones ordered a quart of ice cream we knew
that she was only having a treat for the family. If it were two
quarts or more, it was a party, and if it was ice cream in molds, we
knew a big formal function was on foot.
Society reporting is a fertile field, and for a long time I had been
thinking that society columns were too dull. My ideal of a newspaper
is that every department should be edited so that everyone would
read all the paper. I knew that men rarely read the social column.
One day a man said to me that he always called his wife his better
judgment instead of his better half. That appealed to me as
printable, but where to put it in the paper? Why not in my own
department? I did so. That night when the paper came out everyone
clamored to know who the man was, for I had merely written, "A man
in town calls his wife his better judgment instead of his better
Then I decided to make the society department a reflection of our
daily life and sayings. In order to get these in I used the initials
of my title, "S.R." I never used names, but I always managed to
identify my persons.
As one might expect, I brought down a storm about my head. Many
persons took the hints for themselves when they were not so
intended, and there were some amusing results. For instance, when I
said in the paper that "a certain man in a down-town store has
perfect manners," the next day twelve men thanked me, and I received
four boxes of candy as expressions of gratitude.
There were no complaints about the society column being dull after
this; everyone read it and laughed at it, and it was quoted in many
exchanges. Of course, I was careful to hurt no one's feelings, but I
did occasionally have a little good-natured fun at the expense of
people who wouldn't mind it. Little personal paragraphs of this
sort must never be malicious or mean--if the paper is to keep its
Of all my newspaper experience I like best to dwell on the society
reporting; but if I were to advance I knew that I must take on more
responsibility, so I became city editor of another paper. I was
virtually managing editor, for the editor and owner was a politician
and was away much of the time. It was then that I began to realize
the responsibility of my position, to grapple with the problem of
dealing fairly both with my employer and the public. The daily life
with its varying incidents, the big civic issues, the stories to be
handled, the rights of the advertisers to be considered, the
adjusting of the news to the business department--all these were
brought before me with a powerful clarity.
When a woman starts on a city paper she knows that there are
linotypes, presses and other machinery. Often she has seen them
work; but her knowledge of "how" they work is generally vague. It
was on my third day as city editor that I realized my woeful
ignorance of the newspaper business from the mechanical viewpoint. I
had just arrived at the office when the foreman came to my desk.
"Say," he said, "we didn't get any stuff set last night. Power was
off. Better come out and pick out the plate you want to fill with."
What he meant by the power being off I could understand, and
perforce I went out to select the plate. He handed me long slabs of
plate matter to read. Later I learned that printed copies of the
plate are sent for selection, but in my ignorance I took up the
slabs and tried to read the type. To my astonishment it was all
backward, and I found myself wondering if it were a Chinese feature
story. Finally I threw myself on his mercy and told him to select
what he chose. As I left the composing-room I heard him say to one
of the printers: "That's what comes of the boss hiring a hen
Shortly after noon a linotype operator came to me with his hands
full of copy.
"If you want any of this dope in the paper," he said, "you'll have
to grab off a paragraph here and there. My machine's got a bad
squirt, and it'll take an hour or more to fix it."
Greek, all Greek! A squirt! I was too busy "grabbing off" paragraphs
to investigate; but then and there I resolved to penetrate all these
mysteries. I found the linotype operator eager to show me how his
machine works, and the foreman was glad to take me around and
instruct me in his department and also in the pressroom. I have had
trouble with printers since; but in the end they had to admit that
the "hen editor" knew what she was talking about.
There is a great cry now for woman's advancement. If the women are
hunting equality as their goal let them not seek out the crowded,
hostile cities, but remain in the smaller places where their work
can stand out distinctly. A trite phrase expresses it that a
newspaper is the "voice of the people." What better than that a
woman should set the tune for that voice?
Equality with men! I sit at my desk looking out over the familiar
home scene. A smell of fresh ink comes to me, and a paper just off
the press is slapped down on my desk.
"Look!" says the foreman. "We got out some paper today, didn't we?"
"_We_!" How's that for equality? He has been twenty years at his
trade and I only ten, yet he includes me.
When I am tempted to feel that my field is limited, my tools crude,
and my work unhonored and unsung, I recall a quotation I read many
years ago, and I will place it here at the end of the "hen editor's"
Back before my mind floats that phrase, "Buried in this burg." If a
person has ability, will not the world learn it?
"If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or sing a
more glorious song than his neighbor, though he build his house in
the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door."
That a personal experience story may be utilized to show readers how to
do something is demonstrated in the following article taken from _The
Designer_. It was illustrated by a half-tone made from a wash drawing of
one corner of the burlap room.
A BEDROOM IN BURLAP
THE MOST SATISFACTORY ROOM IN OUR BUNGALOW
BY KATHERINE VAN DORN
Our burlap room is the show room of our bungalow. Visitors are
guided through the living-room, the bedroom, the sleeping-porch and
kitchen, and allowed to express their delight and satisfaction while
we wait with bated breath for the grand surprise to be given them.
Then, when they have concluded, we say:
"But you should see our burlap room!" Then we lead the way up the
stairs to the attic and again stand and wait. We know what is
coming, and, as we revel in the expressions of admiration evoked, we
again declaim with enormous pride: "We made it all ourselves!"
There is a solid satisfaction in making a room, especially for an
amateur who hardly expects to undertake room-making as a profession.
We regard our room as an original creation produced by our own
genius, not likely to be duplicated in our personal experience. It
grew in this wise:
When we came to the bungalow last spring the family numbered three
instead of the two of the year before. Now number three, a healthy
and bouncing young woman, necessitated a "sleeping-in" maid if her
parents were ever to be able to detach themselves from her person.
We had never had a sleeping-in maid at the bungalow before and the
problem of where to put her was a serious one. We well knew that no
self-respecting servant would condescend to sleep in an attic,
although the attic was cool, airy and comfortable. We rather
thought, too, that the maid might despise us if we gave her the
bedroom and took up our quarters under the rafters. It would be an
easy enough matter for carpenters and plasterers to put a room in
the attic, but we lacked the money necessary for such a venture. And
so we puzzled. At first we thought of curtains, but the high winds
which visit us made curtains impracticable. Then we thought of
tacking the curtains top and bottom, and from this the idea
evolved. The carpenter whom we consulted proved to be amenable to
suggestion and agreed to put us up a framework in a day. We helped.
We outlined the room on the floor. This took two strips of wood
about one and a half by two inches. The other two sides of the room
were formed by the wall of the attic and by the meeting place of the
roof and floor--that is, there was in reality no fourth wall; the
room simply ended where floor and roof met. Two strips were nailed
to the rafters in positions similar to those on the floor, and then
an upright strip was inserted and nailed fast at intervals of every
three feet. This distance was decided by the fact that curtain
materials usually come a yard wide. For a door we used a discarded
screen-door, which, having been denuded of the bits of wire clinging
to it, answered the purpose very well. The door completed the
We used a beautiful soft blue burlap. Tacking on proved a more
difficult matter than we had anticipated, owing to the fact that our
carpenter had used cypress for the framework. We stretched the
material taut and then tacked it fast with sharp-pointed,
large-headed brass tacks, and while inserting these we measured
carefully the distances between the tacks in order to keep this
trimming uniform. The two walls supplied by the framework were
quickly covered, but the rough wall of the attic necessitated some
cutting, as we had to tack the burlap to the uprights and these had
not been placed with yard-wide material in view. Above the
screen-door frame was a hiatus of space running up into the peak.
The carpenter had thoughtfully run two strips up to the roof and
this enabled us to fill in by cutting and turning in the cloth. A
corresponding space above the window received similar treatment.
Then we covered the inner surface of the screen door and we had a
But we were far from satisfied. The room looked bare and crude. We
bought a can of dark-oak stain and gave the floor a coat and this
improved matters so much that we stained the wood visible on the
door frame and about the window. Having finished this, we saw the
need of doing something for the ceiling. The ceiling was merely the
inner surface of the roof. The builders had made it of boards of
varying sizes, the rafters were rough and splintery and there were
myriads of nails sticking through everywhere. It looked a hopeless
task. But we bought more stain and went to work. Before beginning we
covered our precious blue walls with newspapers, donned our oldest
clothes and spread papers well over the floor. It was well that we
did. The staining was not difficult work but the nails made it
splashy and we were pretty well spotted when we finished.
But when we did finish we felt compensated. The nails had become
invisible. The dull blue walls with their bright brass trimming, the
soft brown floor and the stained, raftered roof made the room the
most attractive in the house. We could not rest, although the hour
was late and we were both tired, until we had furnished it. We put
in a couple of small rugs, a brass bed, and a white bureau. We hung
two pictures securely upon the uprights of the skeleton. We added a
couple of chairs and a rack for clothing, put up a white madras
curtain at the window, and regarded the effect with the utmost
satisfaction. The room answered the purpose exactly. The burlap was
thick enough to act as a screen. It was possible to see movement
through it, but not form. It insured privacy and still permitted the
air to pass through for ventilation. As a finishing touch we screwed
a knob on the outside of the door, put a brass hook on the inside
and went downstairs to count the cost.
As a quick and inexpensive method of adding to the number of rooms
in one's house, the making of a burlap room is without an equal. The
idea is not patented, and we who deem ourselves its creators, are
only too happy to send it on, in the hope that it may be of service
to some other puzzled householder who is wondering where to put an
added family member.
THE CONFESSION STORY. Closely akin to the personal experience article is
the so-called "confession story." Usually published anonymously,
confession stories may reveal more personal and intimate experiences
than a writer would ordinarily care to give in a signed article.
Needless to say, most readers are keenly interested in such revelations,
even though they are made anonymously. Like personal experience stories,
they are told in the first person with a liberal use of the pronoun "I."
A writer need not confine himself to his own experiences for confession
stories; he may obtain valuable material for them from others. Not
infrequently his name is attached to these articles accompanied by the
statement that the confession was "transcribed," "taken down," or
"recorded" by the writer.
Conditions of life in classes of society with which the reader is not
familiar may be brought home to him through the medium of the confession
story. It may be made the means of arousing interest in questions about
which the average reader cares little. The average man or woman, for
example, is probably little concerned with the problem of the poorly
paid college professor, but hundreds of thousands doubtless read with
interest the leading article in an issue of the _Saturday Evening Post_
entitled, "The Pressure on the Professor." This was a confession story,
which did not give the author's own experiences but appeared as
"Transcribed by Walter E. Weyl." This article was obviously written with
the purpose, skillfully concealed, of calling attention to the hard lot
of the underpaid professor.
Constructive criticism of existing conditions may be successfully
embodied in the form of a confession article that describes the evils as
they have been experienced by one individual. If the article is to be
entirely effective and just, the experience of the one person described
must be fairly typical of that of others in the same situation. In order
to show that these experiences are characteristic, the writer may find
it advantageous to introduce facts and figures tending to prove that his
own case is not an isolated example. In the confession article mentioned
above, "The Pressure on the Professor," the assistant professor who
makes the confession, in order to demonstrate that his own case is
typical, cites statistics collected by a colleague at Stanford
University giving the financial status of 112 assistant professors in
various American universities.
Confessions that show how faults and personal difficulties have been
overcome prove helpful to readers laboring under similar troubles. Here
again, what is related should be typical rather than exceptional.
EXAMPLES OF THE CONFESSION STORY. That an intimate account of the
financial difficulties of a young couple as told by the wife, may not
only make an interesting story but may serve as a warning to others, is
shown in the confession story below. Signed "F.B.," and illustrated with
a pen and ink sketch of the couple at work over their accounts, it was
printed in _Every Week_, a popular illustrated periodical formerly
published by the Crowell Publishing Company, New York.
THE THINGS WE LEARNED TO DO WITHOUT
We were married within a month of our commencement, after three
years of courtship at a big Middle West university. Looking back, it
seems to me that rich, tumultuous college life of ours was wholly
pagan. All about us was the free-handed atmosphere of "easy money,"
and in our "crowd" a tacit implication that a good time was one of
the primary necessities of life. Such were our ideas when we married
on a salary of one hundred dollars a month. We took letters of
introduction to some of the "smart" people in a suburb near Chicago,
and they proved so delightfully cordial that we settled down among
them without stopping to consider the discrepancies between their
ways and our income. We were put up at a small country club--a
simple affair enough, comparatively speaking--that demanded six
weeks' salary in initial dues and much more in actual subsequent
expense. "Everybody" went out for Saturday golf and stayed for
dinner and dancing.
By fall there was in working operation a dinner club of the "younger
married set," as our local column in the city papers called us; an
afternoon bridge club; and a small theater club that went into town
every fortnight for dinner and a show. Costly little amusements, but
hardly more than were due charming young people of our opportunities
and tastes. I think that was our attitude, although we did not admit
it. In September we rented a "smart" little apartment. We had
planned to furnish it by means of several generous checks which were
family contributions to our array of wedding gifts. What we did was
to buy the furniture on the instalment plan, agreeing to pay twenty
dollars a month till the bill was settled, and we put the furniture
money into running expenses.
It was the beginning of a custom. They gave most generously, that
older generation. Visiting us, Max's mother would slip a bill into
my always empty purse when we went shopping; or mine would drop a
gold piece into my top bureau drawer for me to find after she had
gone. And there were always checks for birthdays.
Everything went into running expenses; yet, in spite of it, our
expenses ran quite away. Max said I was "too valuable a woman to put
into the kitchen," so we hired a maid, good-humoredly giving her
_carte blanche_ on the grocery and meat market. Our bills, for all
our dining out, were enormous. There were clothes, too. Max
delighted in silk socks and tailored shirts, and he ordered his
monogramed cigarettes by the thousand. My own taste ran to expensive
It is hardly necessary to recount the details. We had our first
tremendous quarrel at the end of six months, when, in spite of our
furniture money and our birthday checks, we found ourselves two
hundred and fifty dollars in debt. But as we cooled we decided that
there was nothing we could do without; we could only be "more
Every month we reached that same conclusion. There was nothing we
could do without. At the end of the year on a $1200 salary we were
$700 behind; eight months later, after our first baby came, we were
over a thousand--and by that time, it seemed, permanently estranged.
I actually was carrying out a threat of separation and stripping the
apartment, one morning, when Max came back from town and sat down to
discuss matters with me.
A curious labyrinthine discussion it was, winding from
recriminations and flat admissions that our marriage was a failure
and our love was dead, to the most poignant memories of our
engagement days. But its central point was Max's detached insistence
that we make marriage over into a purely utilitarian affair.
"Man needs the decencies of a home," he said over and over. "It
doesn't do a fellow any good with a firm like mine to have them know
he can't manage his affairs. And my firm is the kind of firm I want
to work for. This next year is important; and if I spend it dragging
through a nasty divorce business, knowing that everybody knows, I'll
be about thirty per cent efficient. I'm willing to admit that
marriage--even a frost like ours--is useful. Will you?"
I had to. My choice rested between going home, where there were two
younger sisters, or leaving the baby somewhere and striking out for
"It seems to me," said Max, taking out his pencil, "that if two
reasonably clever people can put their best brain power and eight
hours a day into a home, it might amount to something sometime. The
thing resolves itself into a choice between the things we can do
without and the things we can't. We'll list them. We can't do
without three meals and a roof; but there must be something."
"You can certainly give up silk socks and cigarettes," I said; and,
surprisingly, on this old sore point between us Max agreed.
"You can give up silk stockings, then," he said, and put them down.
Silk socks and silk stockings! Out of all possible economies, they
were the only things that we could think of. Finally--
"We could make baby an excuse," I said, "and never get out to the
club till very late--after dinner--and stay just for the dancing.
And we could get out of the dinner club and the theater bunch. Only,
we ought to have some fun."
"You can go to matinées, and tell me about them, so we can talk
intelligently. We'll say we can't leave the kid nights--"
"We can buy magazines and read up on plays. We'll talk well enough
if we do that, and people won't know we haven't been. Put down:
'Magazines for plays.'"
He did it quite seriously. Do we seem very amusing to you? So
anxious lest we should betray our economies--so impressed with our
social "position" and what people might think! It is funny enough to
me, looking back; but it was bitter business then.
I set myself to playing the devoted and absorbed young mother. But
it was a long, long time before it became the sweetest of realities.
I cried the first time I refused a bridge game to "stay with baby";
and I carried a sore heart those long spring afternoons when I
pushed his carriage conspicuously up and down the avenue while the
other women motored past me out for tea at the club. Yet those long
walks were the best thing that ever happened to me. I had time to
think, for one thing; and I gained splendid health, losing the
superfluous flesh I was beginning to carry, and the headaches that
usually came after days of lunching and bridge and dining.
I fell into the habit, too, of going around by the market, merely to
have an objective, and buying the day's supplies. The first month of
that habit my bills showed a decrease of $16.47. I shall always
remember that sum, because it is certainly the biggest I have ever
seen. I began to ask the prices of things; and I made my first faint
effort at applying our game of substitution to the food problem, a
thing which to me is still one of the most fascinating factors in
One afternoon in late summer, I found a delightful little bungalow
in process of building, on a side street not so _very_ far from the
proper avenue. I investigated idly, and found that the rent was
thirty dollars less than we were paying. Yet even then I hesitated.
It was Max who had the courage to decide.
"The only thing we are doing without is the address," he said, "And
that isn't a loss that looks like $360 to me."
All that fall and winter we kept doggedly at our game of
substitution. Max bought a ready-made Tuxedo, and I ripped out the
label and sewed in one from a good tailor. I carried half a dozen
dresses from the dyer's to a woman who evolved three very decent
gowns; and then I toted them home in a box with a marking calculated
to impress any chance acquaintance. We were so ashamed of our
attempts at thrift that they came hard.
Often enough we quarreled after we had been caught in some sudden
temptation that set us back a pretty penny, and we were inevitably
bored and cross when we refused some gayety for economy's sake. We
resolutely decided to read aloud the evenings the others went to the
theater club; and as resolutely we substituted a stiff game of chess
for the bridge that we could not afford. But we had to learn to like
Occasionally we entertained at very small, very informal dinners,
"on account of the baby"; and definitely discarded the wines that
added the "smartness" demanded at formal affairs. People came to
those dinners in their second or third best: but they stayed late,
and laughed hilariously to the last second of their stay.
In the spring we celebrated Max's second respectable rise in salary
by dropping out of the country club. We could do without it by that
time. At first we thought it necessary to substitute a determined
tramp for the Sunday morning golf game; but we presently gave that
up. We were becoming garden enthusiasts. And as a substitution for
most of the pleasure cravings of life, gardening is to be highly
recommended. Discontent has a curious little trick of flowing out of
the earthy end of a hoe.
Later that summer I found that a maid was one of the things I could
do without, making the discovery in an interregnum not of my
original choosing. A charwoman came in for the heavier work, and I
took over the cooking. Almost immediately, in spite of my
inexperience, the bills dropped. I could not cook rich pastries and
fancy desserts, and fell back on simple salads and fruit instead. I
dipped into the household magazines, followed on into technical
articles on efficiency, substituted labor-savers wherever I could,
and started my first muddled set of accounts.
At the beginning of the new year I tried my prentice hand on a
budget; and that was the year that we emerged from debt and began to
That was six very short years ago. When, with three babies, the
bungalow became a trifle small, we built a little country house and
moved farther out. Several people whom we liked best among that
first "exclusive younger set" have moved out too, and formed the
nucleus of a neighborhood group that has wonderful times on incomes
no one of which touches $4000 a year.
Ours is not as much as that yet; but it is enough to leave a wide
and comfortable margin all around our wants. Max has given up his
pipe for cigarettes (unmonogramed), and patronizes a good tailor for
business reasons. But in everything else our substitutions stand:
gardening for golf; picnics for roadhouse dinners; simple food,
simple clothing, simple hospitality, books, a fire, and a game of
chess on winter nights.
We don't even talk about economies any more. We like them.
But--every Christmas there comes to me via the Christmas tree a box
of stockings, and for Max a box of socks--heavy silk. There never is
any card in either box; but I think we'll probably get them till we
The following short confession, signed "Mrs. M.F.E.," was awarded the
first prize by the _American Magazine_ in a contest for articles on "The
Best Thing Experience Has Taught Me":
Forty Years Bartered for What?
A tiny bit of wisdom, but as vital as protoplasm. I know, for I
bartered forty precious years of wifehood and motherhood to learn
During the years of my childhood and girlhood, our family passed
from wealth to poverty. My father and only brother were killed in
battle during the Civil War; our slaves were freed; our plantations
melted from my mother's white hands during the Reconstruction days;
our big town house was sold for taxes.
When I married, my only dowry was a fierce pride and an overwhelming
ambition to get back our material prosperity. My husband was making
a "good living." He was kind, easy-going, with a rare capacity for
enjoying life and he loved his wife with that chivalrous,
unquestioning, "the queen-can-do-no-wrong" type of love.
But even in our days of courting I answered his ardent love-making
with, "And we will work and save and buy back the big house; then we
will--" etc., etc.
And he? Ah, alone at sixty, I can still hear echoing down the years
his big tender laugh, as he'd say, "Oh, what a de-ah, ambitious
little sweetheart I have!"
He owned a home, a little cottage with a rose garden at one side of
it--surely, with love, enough for any bride. But I--I saw only the
ancestral mansion up the street, the big old house that had passed
out of the hands of our family.
I would have no honeymoon trip; I wanted the money instead. John
kissed each of my palms before he put the money into them. My
fingers closed greedily over the bills; it was the nest egg, the
Next I had him dismiss his bookkeeper and give me the place. I
didn't go to his store--Southern ladies didn't do that in those
days--but I kept the books at home, and I wrote all the business
letters. So it happened when John came home at night, tired from his
day's work at the store, I had no time for diversions, for
love-making, no hours to walk in the rose garden by his side--no, we
must talk business.
I can see John now on many a hot night--and summer _is_ hot in the
Gulf States--dripping with perspiration as he dictated his letters
to me, while I, my aching head near the big hot lamp, wrote on and
on with hurried, nervous fingers. Outside there would be the evening
breeze from the Gulf, the moonlight, the breath of the roses, all
the romance of the southern night--but not for us!
The children came--four, in quick succession. But so fixed were my
eyes on the goal of Success, I scarcely realized the mystery of
motherhood. Oh, I loved them! I loved John, too. I would willingly
have laid down my life for him or for any one of the children. And I
intended _sometime_ to stop and enjoy John and the children. Oh,
yes, I was going really to _live_ after we had bought back the big
house, and had done so and so! In the meanwhile, I held my breath
"I'll be so glad," I remember saying one day to a friend, "when all
my children are old enough to be off at school all day!" Think of
that! Glad when the best years of our lives together were passed!
The day came when the last little fellow trudged off to school and I
no longer had a baby to hamper me. We were living now in the big
old home. We had bought it back and paid for it. I no longer did
John's bookkeeping for him--he paid a man a hundred dollars a month
to do that--but I still kept my hand on the business.
Then suddenly one day--John died. _Died_ in what should have been
the prime and vigor of his life.
I worked harder than ever then, not from necessity, but because in
the first few years after John left I was _afraid_ to stop and
think. So the years hurried by! One by one the children grew up and
entered more or less successful careers of their own.... I don't
feel that I know them so very well.
And now that the time of life has come when I must stop and think, I
ask myself: "What did you do with the wonderful gifts Life laid in
your lap--the love of a good man, domestic happiness, the chance to
know intimately four little souls?"
And being honest I have to answer: "I bartered Life's great gifts
for Life's pitiful extras--for pride, for show!"
If my experience were unique it would not be worth publishing, but
it is only too common. Think of the wives who exchange the best
years of their lives, their husband's comfort, his peace of mind, if
not to buy back the family mansion, then for a higher social
position; sometimes it is merely for--clothes!
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